Plans to move Free Horizon Montessori into former Pleasant View

Jeffco and state boards of education still must vote to approve the transisition

Posted 4/13/18

One shuttered Golden-area school might become the new home of an area charter school. Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass announced recently that the school district intends to go …

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Plans to move Free Horizon Montessori into former Pleasant View

Jeffco and state boards of education still must vote to approve the transisition

Posted

One shuttered Golden-area school might become the new home of an area charter school.

Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass announced recently that the school district intends to go forward with plans to move Free Horizon Montessori school into the former Pleasant View Elementary building.

“Ultimately, and based on feedback we got from the community, we felt re-opening a successful school at the site with stable enrollment would best serve kids in Jeffco,” Glass said. “This is an option focused on education, which is our organizational core purpose.”

But nothing is finalized yet. Free Horizon Montessori Principal Kresta Vuolo described it as an “emerging process.”

The process includes Free Horizon Montessori shifting from a charter school to a district option school with innovation status. This would first need to be approved by the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. Then, the innovation status must be approved by the state board of education for some waivers from state law, necessary for Free Horizon to operate as a Montessori school.

The Jeffco board will vote on April 16, and Glass expects the State Board of Education to take action in June.

Both boards may approve, reject or request revisions on the proposal. In the case of approval by both boards, Free Horizon Montessori would move into the Pleasant View site for the 2018-19 school year.

Should this happen, Free Horizon Montessori would be creating an additional priority enrollment category under choice enrolment for families in the Pleasant View area.

“The Free Horizon community is truly phenomenal,” said Karlynn Cory, a parent who has had children attending the school for the past seven years. Cory was addressing the Jeffco school board during the public comment portion of an April 5 meeting. “I know that many in the Pleasant View community were devastated when their neighborhood school closed. I can’t imagine the pain that caused, and my heart goes out to them. I do know that FHM (Free Horizon Montessori) would love to reach out and partner with all the kids, students and community members to create a new chapter. I hope they will give us a chance because I think we will help raise each other up and we will do what’s best for the children.”

Following a Jeffco Board of Education decision in February last year, Pleasant View Elementary, 15920 W. 10th Ave. in Golden, closed on May 23. The board cited low enrollment and aging building conditions among reasons for the closure.

It was built in 1950, and beginning in the 1980s, underwent a number of remodels, additions and system upgrades through the years. Jeffco Public Schools owns the Pleasant View site.

The building is 49,079 square feet and it sits on 6.6 acres. As a school, it has a capacity of 461 students. Peak enrollment was during the 1998-99 school year with 401 students, and the lowest enrollment was 236 students in the 2009-10 school year. Jefferson County Public Schools’ district records show that 276 students attended Pleasant View at some point during the last school year, but by the end of the year, enrollment was just under 225 students.

Free Horizon opened in 2002 in the Applewood Grove area, near West 20th Avenue and Youngfield Street in Golden. In 2006, it moved to its current location at 581 Conference Place in Golden. It is about two miles away from Pleasant View. Free Horizon purchased its building through public bond in 2010, and that same year, had a facility expansion.

The move “would be a better opportunity for our students,” Vuolo said.

Free Horizon Montessori has some facilities deficits, Vuolo said, which include not having a gym or a food service kitchen, and the library and tech lab are located in temp buildings. The Pleasant View facility would also allow Free Horizon to increase its early childhood program, which is a need evidenced by the school’s waitlist for the program, Vuolo said.

In addition, the school is located in an office park, and the transition would provide the opportunity to move into a neighborhood, “which,” Vuolo said, “is where schools should be.”

Free Horizon Montessori currently serves about 420 students. About 65 percent of its student body lives within a five-mile radius of the school, Vuolo said, and the rest come from across Jefferson County and small amount from Denver and Douglas counties.

“We did get a letter of interest from Free Horizon Montessori on purchasing the (Pleasant View) property,” Glass said, “but ultimately worked toward the model of the district retaining ownership of the school and Free Horizon becoming a district option school as the preferable route.”

Glass’ announcement went out in letter form on March 19. It went to the approximate 100 people who attended a Dec. 5 community meeting hosted by the school district to gather input about proposed future uses of the Pleasant View Elementary building. It was requested that the letter was shared with any other interested individuals, Glass said.

At the Dec. 5 meeting, Glass presented six ideas for the Pleasant View site that the district came up with: a children’s museum, a conference center/meeting space, an early childhood education facility, a family justice center such as a safe place where domestic violence victims can get resources, housing development and reopen it as a charter or private school.

There was also a category where the meeting’s attendees could provide their own ideas, and some of these included turning it into an equestrian center, or a community center that would serve all age demographics in the greater Pleasant View area.

“In the course of these discussions, all sorts of ideas came forward,” Glass said. “While these were interesting, our organizational commitment is to education and we felt the Free Horizon solution met that commitment best.”

However, should everything be approved for Free Horizon to move into the Pleasant View site, the school district would acquire the building that Free Horizon Montessori currently owns.

“These other ideas are not off the table, as we will have another facility that potentially could be used for one of these purposes,” Glass said. “We haven’t closed the door on anything yet.”

The “painful truth” about this for the Pleasant View Elementary community is that it would still be a district-owned and maintained building, which contradicts the district’s main rationale for closing the school last year, said Kim Brock, chair of the Golden Schools Foundation, an organization that supports Golden’s seven neighborhood articulation schools through various enrichment grants and academic programs.

“We had a wonderfully supportive and beloved school in Pleasant View Elementary last year that was taken away because ‘its name appeared at the bottom of a list’ and the district had no money to save it,” Brock said. “Clearly, these will not be the typical Free Horizon Montessori potential students, so it will be interesting to see what the priority enrollment process truly is for Pleasant View Elementary, as well as what impacts that will have on the Free Horizon Montessori reputation. Where will they find the balance between serving the Pleasant View Elementary community and serving the mission of Free Horizon Montessori.”

Vuolo notes that Free Horizon Montessori can’t be a replacement for the families of Pleasant View Elementary mourning the loss of their school, she said. But, she added, the school will welcome these families, understanding that not all will want to transition.

“Our hope is to be a good neighbor,” Vuolo said. “We want to make sure everybody’s interests are protected — with a focus on the students.”

Many of the students who went to Pleasant View last year are attending other Jeffco Public Schools now. The majority of students are at Shelton Elementary, 420 Crawford St., and Welchester Elementary, 13000 W. 10th Ave.; and a good number attend Kyffin Elementary, 205 S. Flora Way. All three of those schools are in Golden. About 20 students went on to nearby Bell Middle School. Most of the rest are spread out in small numbers among 30 other Jeffco schools.

“Both Welchester and Shelton have welcomed the Pleasant View Elementary students, but it has been a tough transition for everyone involved. And to think that after just one year, these families are expected to transition again, just seems so dishonest,” Brock said. “The Golden Schools Foundation will continue to be a voice for our Pleasant View Elementary community on this issue.”

Another concern is that the Pleasant View community has not had a voice in the decision-making process.

“The community has been taken by surprise by the latest events and it is too soon to tell what is actually going to happen when Free Horizon Montessori moves into the Pleasant View Elementary campus,” said Dr. Thomas Gould, former spokesman of the Pleasant View Elementary Community Partners group and a member of New Hope Community Church in Pleasant View. “We have no information on the secret evaluation of alternatives and if they included impacts on students or the community.”

The decision to have Free Horizon Montessori move into the Pleasant View Elementary campus may be the best one in the long run, Gould said, but added that it should have been the Pleasant View community that came to that decision.

“It’s obvious that trust in the Jeffco School District continues to be low due to lack of transparency and broken promises,” Gould said. “But I also know that the staff at Free Horizon Montessori has a good heart and good intentions. Now we can only wait and see how well the Pleasant View Elementary community is served by Free Horizon Montessori, or not.”

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